Tuesday, April 26, 2005


CYBER AGE BY ND BATRA From The Statesman

After selling its ThinkPad to a Chinese company, Lenovo Group Ltd, IBM has begun to admonish us about the inevitability of China’s rise and the need to harness its strength for corporate America. A recent full-page ad crowed, “The future is a dragon. Do you hear it coming?” Along with its recently acquired ability to channel the power of the dragon, IBM boasts of access to a global pool of Nobel laureates, research labs and no less than 3,000 scientists, engineers and technologists.

Instead of paying the salaries of scientists and technologists to solve complex problems, the ad asked, wouldn’t it be great simply “to rent their minds”? Since “outsourcing” has become rather a sordid word in American political lexicon, renting brainpower from other countries for doing specific jobs sounds more acceptable. But this is only one view of China, that is: help develop its intellectual and manufacturing power but control it through deals like Lenovo and other co-dependent corporate relationship. Will that keep the dragon tamed? Of course, Japanese, too, hear the dragon coming out of its lair but they would rather have a different future than a dragon on their doorstep. For several weeks, Chinese government permitted (read: encouraged) loud, ugly and sometime violent protests against Japan in several big industrial cities including Shanghai and Hong Kong, regarding Japanese insensitivities to their bruised feelings.

Whatever happened? The Chinese claim that their feelings have been hurt because some recently approved Japanese school textbooks show no remorse about the atrocities the Japanese troops had committed against them during World war II; Japan began to explore undersea oil and gas deposits in a disputed region of East China Sea; and of course Japan’s strategic alliance with the USA regarding the Taiwan issue. When Japan asked for an apology and compensation for vandalism and damage to its diplomatic and commercial property, China said it has nothing to apologise about.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said, “The problem now is that the Japanese government has done a series of things that have hurt the feelings of the Chinese people….” Before the street protests, the Chinese government had allowed an online petition drive by millions of Chinese against Japan’s effort to seek permanent membership of the UN Security Council. That was an unprecedented online phenomenon. From time to time, Japanese governments have apologised for the Nanjing Massacre of 1937 and inhuman treatment of Chinese during the occupation of China during World War II. But Japan cannot be expected to live on shame and guilt forever over what another generation had done, what happened six decades ago, and at the same time continue pouring billions of dollars in investment and cheap loans that have helped build Chinese economy.

There is hardly any country that could lay an uncontested claim to a spotless historical past, least of all China. Chinese school textbooks do not admit that it committed a surreptitious attack against India in 1962 and invaded Vietnam in 1979; nor its blatant destruction of Tibetan culture during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The fact is that every society tries to sanitise history to some extent but the advantage of living in a democratic open society is that eventually the truth comes out. At least the German and Japanese youth know what their countrymen had done to others during World War II. The Chinese youth would never know the truth about Tibet and Tienanmen Square, for example, so long the Communist Party maintains its sole grip over power. Just as the Chinese authorities pressed an emotional button to arouse the Chinese to come out and protest against Japan, with the same alacrity they ordered protesters to pipe down. In spite of its quick march to market capitalism that has generated more than nine per cent growth over the last two decades, China continues to be a command and control society.

The Communist Party is capable of generating controlled mass hysteria through nationalism and uses it as a negotiating tool for diplomatic goals. In a recent international conference of Asian-African leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia, Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi repeated the apology for his nation’s past militarism that “caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations.”

But the latest apology is not surrender, not of its national interests especially its strategic relations with the USA and its commitment to prevent China from using force against Taiwan, even if China withdraws its opposition to Japan becoming a Security Council member. Would India give up anything for a permanent seat in the Security Council?

China might have overplayed its hand this time. China and Japan need each other. Their economies have become interdependent. Japan has replaced the USA as China’s biggest trading partner. Just as corporate America views China as a partner, corporate Japan too believes that “the future is a dragon” and hears it coming. Chinese businesses also know that confrontation against Japan is counterproductive. This is another aspect of globalisation, when a country’s multinational corporations’ search for labour, markets and capital and its national political interests are likely to intersect and clash. And there lies the hope of compromise and peaceful solution to international disputes, when business interests trump politics.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


From The Statesman
ND Batra

Nothing could have been more deceptive than what India’s Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said at a press conference in New Delhi at the conclusion of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit. “India and China are partners, and they are not rivals. We do not look upon each other as adversaries.”

Look at the Chinese activities in Pakistan, an all-weather friend — from financing the building of a deep seaport, Gwadar, at the gateway to West Asia to its clandestine contribution for developing nuclear weapons; building road links with Bangladesh; its surveillance station in Myanmar’s Coco Islands; and its efforts at trying to cosy up to Nepal after India, the UK and the USA denounced King Gyanendra’s high-handed action to snuff out democracy.

Nor should it have gone unnoticed China’s wishy-washy non-committal support for membership of the UN Security Council. The Chinese vague official statement that it “attaches great importance to the status of India in international affairs” and “understands and supports India’s aspirations to play an active role in the UN and international affairs” is a tongue-in-cheek attempt to get out of a definitive commitment.

One should take with a pinch of salt a pious sounding but diplomatically meaningless utterance such as, “Aware of their linked destinies as neighbours and the two largest countries of Asia, both sides agreed that they would, together, contribute to the establishment of an atmosphere of mutual understanding, trust and cooperation in Asia and the world at large.”It reminds one of the pre-1962 Hindi-Chini “bhai-bhai” Nehru era, when Panch Shil was peddled as an alternative to the Cold-War’s hard-headed diplomacy. India might put up a brave face and assert that it has overcome the feeling of betrayal but it does not have a definitive answer to the question whether Chinese intentions have changed. China is still holding a large chunk of territory in Kashmir, 38,000 sqkm (14,670 sqmiles) of Aksai Chin, which it seized after the 1962 blatant invasion, and claims more.

Another 5,180 sqkm (2,000 sqmiles) of northern Kashmir was given by Pakistan to Beijing as a price for an all-weather friendship pact signed in 1963. China had already built a road through Aksai Chin linking Tibet with its Xinjiang province before it laid an aggressive claim on it. Now it seeks a political solution, not a technical one, to the border problem. In other words, since Aksai Chin highway helps China to maintain control over the region, it is politically more important to China than to India.

So India should give up its cartographic, that’s technical, claim on Aksai Chin in lieu of letting India keep what it already controls in the east, in Arunachal Pradesh. That’s what Prime Minister Chou En Lai said in 1962 that India should accept “the present actualities”. So it is back to the future with the same old Chinese argument: Technically Aksai Chin may be yours, but politically it is ours.

The solution to the border problem, especially in Aksai Chin, interestingly, could be technical and political at the same time. For example, China could use the Aksai Chin highway on a long-term basis provided it recognised India’s technical and political claim on the region.

China must also withdraw other claims it makes on Indian territories. If the time is not ripe for a settlement along these lines, India should wait and watch. Trade and technological cooperation could continue to grow as they have been doing in the last few years even without a final resolution of the border disputes. Much is being made of India-China trade relations. If China is now India’s second-largest trading partner, after the USA, with a bilateral trade of $13 billion, it shows how puny is India’s total foreign trade in comparison with that of China. In the fiscal year 2004-05, India’s total export amounted to $80 billion as against China’s global export of $593 billion.

What does India export to China? Mostly raw material for its construction industry and other semi-finished goods in exchange for Ganesha idols, toasters, television sets and so on. China sells value added goods to India, much as the British did during colonial times. Of course if you add to it “bitter gourds and grapes” (Wow!), the bilateral trade might jump to $20 billion by 2008.

Not to be scoffed at, true, because international trade helps create jobs and reduce tension in international relations, but pushing the expectations to the level of “strategic and cooperative partnership” is not only ridiculous but also dangerous. A free trade agreement would give China an unlimited access to Indian market, which would kill Indian manufacturing as it has done in the USA.

While the USA is a complex and dynamic economy and creates alternative jobs to replace the ones lost to Chinese manufacturing, India cannot mimic the USA. In the coming decades India would be racing against China: for energy, scarce raw materials, intellectual property, and outsourcing. While there are possibilities of cooperation, the competition between the two giants would be brutal.

India’s cooperative and strategic relationship with the USA, ranging from fighting terrorism and the security of the Indian Ocean to sophisticated technology sharing and building a knowledge society is too important to be sacrificed for another round of India-China illusory friendship. The USA has helped build Germany, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and China into global economic powers. India should see where its national interests lie.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


CYBER AGE BY ND BATRA From The Statesman

The school bully is a universal menace. Though no one has attempted to write a history of school bullying, one might surmise that it must have begun the day the first school began anywhere in the world. Threats and intimidation and extortion — bullying takes many forms — make it impossible for kids to concentrate on their studies and sports. Safety in school has become a major concern for school authorities and parents. But no one has blamed television for being responsible for turning kids into bullies until a recent research found that kids who spent about three and a half hours daily in front of television had 25 per cent risk of becoming bullies between the ages of 6 and 11.

The research findings, which have been published in the April issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, would make us believe that whenever something goes wrong with children, it must be because of the impact of television and other popular media.

So we have been told in so many ways that television causes violent behaviour in children. Television causes obesity in children. And last year we learned from the results of another study that early exposure to television by children increases the risk of attention disorder. Children’s brain undergoes rapid development in the early years and exposure to television might interfere in the neural wiring of the brain. The research done at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center at the University of Washington, Seattle, covered more than 1,300 children. The researchers led by Dr Dimitri Christakis concluded that for every hour of television viewing by children in 1-3 age group, the risk of attention disorder increased by 9 per cent.

A child having attention disorder does not necessarily suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD children (and adults) suffer from some chemical imbalance in the brain. They can’t stay still or control their actions. They talk incessantly and get bored easily. They forget things and can’t finish the work they are doing. To some extent all children show such tendencies. Attention disorder is a matter of degree. At some point it becomes a serious illness. The question is what kind of television programmes cause or aggravate the condition. Or could some programme reverse attention disorder?

While the University of Washington study concluded that early exposure might skew the brain development, an earlier study done in the late 1980s showed the tremendous learning potential of television for toddlers. The researchers found that toddlers as young as 10 months have the potential to learn when they watch television. The right kinds of television programmes could promote intellectual development and help children to learn language skills, such as matching names to the objects they represent, and do things by watching them being done on television. For example, a toddler could take apart a toy and also put it together after seeing it being done on television, researchers had found. Dr Mabel Rice of the University of Kansas, whose research on language acquisition indicated that infants are capable of learning from television if a programme, for example, “Sesame Street”, is especially made for them.

To be sure, fast-paced Saturday morning children’s programmes that are nothing but infomercials for action toys and sugared cereals are not going to help children any way except to turn them into avid consumers of the multi-billion dollar toy marketplace. What could explain the apparent contradiction between Dr Christakis’s research that TV may cause attention disorder and Dr Rice’s earlier research that TV holds the potential to teach infants? It is probably what goes into the content of the programme. Through trial and error we might learn what kinds of programmes turn a child into a bully or a good soldier; a mathematician or a musician. We don’t know enough. Probably there is more than one factor.

A few years ago, The American Psychological Association suggested four steps that could be taken “to mitigate, moderate and minimize” the impact of violence on little ones:

1. Watch at least one episode of programmes the child watches to know how violent they are.
2. When viewing together, discuss the violence with the child as to why the violence happened and how painful it is. Ask the child how the conflict could have been solved without violence.
3. Explain to the child that violence in entertainment is not real.
4. Encourage children to watch programmes with characters that cooperate, help, and care for each other.

APA said that these programmes have been shown to influence children in a positive way and suggested making “TV violence part of the public health agenda (as with smoking and drunk driving), publicising — through a vigorous public information campaign in all information media — its perils and effects.” Television violence in children programming has not gone down because Hollywood has passed the buck to parents. Let parents use the V-chip to block out objectionable programming.

The latest study from the University of Washington, interestingly, also found that television’s negative effect, the risk of bullying, for example, could be reduced by mental and physical stimulations such as outdoor activities, reading aloud to children, and having family meals together. Home environment is more important than television in rearing children. Don’t we know that?

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley

Cyber Age/The Statesman

ND Batra

The US Supreme faces an interesting dilemma: If a technology is legitimate, can it be banned if its use creates some illegal consequences? In Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc vs. Grokster Ltd., the Court has begun to consider the legality of peer-to-peer Internet file sharing, a dual use technology that is alleged to have created havoc for the entrainment industry, which creates and distributes copyrighted material such as music, movies, cartoons, etc.

A similar technology conundrum had occurred in the eighties when Sony put Betamax, its videocassette recoding technology, in the market and Hollywood began to experience near death syndrome, arguing that the technology would infringe copyrighted programs and destroy the business model on which it had thrived. In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court ruled that Sony was not contributing to copyright infringement even if some users might be using it for illegal purposes. In fact the Court came up with a new legal expression that has stood the test of time: time shifting, which means that a woman might tape her favorite daytime soap opera, for example, and watch it later on at her convenience. Instead of damaging the financial interests of Hollywood, videocassette recorder, VCR, which ironically drove out Sony Betamax from the market, created a new revenue stream through movie rentals for Hollywood. Let’s keep in mind that technology creates new markets, even when it destroys old ones.

If the Supreme court decides that file sharing technology infringes on copyright, it would effectively redefine if not overturn its 1984 Sony Betamax ruling and jeopardize the development of burgeoning new technologies such as digital video recorder, TiVo, digital music recorders, iPod, and other innovations in the pipeline. Software and technology developers would worry if their new products would be held liable for copyright infringement. Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer were right in questioning whether a hasty action to protect the entertainment industry from infringing technologies might have an adverse effect on the developing technologies. Justice Breyer mentioned the Xerox machine, videocassette recorder and the Gutenberg printing press (1455) among technologies that brought about revolutionary changes in our lives. Had they been stopped, the world would have been poorer.

On the other hand, if intellectual property rights including copyright cannot protect creators and companies that package their creative expressions, how could the intellectual rights of technology innovators and software developers themselves be protected? Their patents and copyrights too could be infringed. So the legal arguments of Silicon Valley and Hollywood against each other’s rights go beyond their immediate self-interests. Both need protection, but how much protection of intellectual property rights is too much? When does protection stifle creativity and innovation?
Since the development of Napster in 1999, music-recording companies claimed to have lost millions of dollars in CD sales because of Internet file swapping. Napster enabled users to browse each other’s files and share copyrighted music, but the users had to do so by going through its own central servers.

The court ruled that since Napster controlled its own servers, it could stop illegal sharing of files. Napster was shut down and has recently reappeared as a fee-based legal outfit. But other companies, Grokster, Morpheus, Kazaa, for example, learning from the mistakes of Napster, developed file-sharing systems that don’t use their own servers. They claim they have no control over how people use their file-sharing software, which has many legitimate uses. In October 2001, several music companies and movie studios sued Grokster and StreamCast Networks Inc. (Morpheus distributor) for contributing to the theft of copyrighted music and movies, but a California federal court judge ruled in 2003 that since file-sharing software could be used for legal purposes, it was protected under the 1984 Sony Betamax ruling. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision last August.

It is true that the electronic frontier battle is not only between Hollywood on the one side and Silicon Valley and college students in their dorms and teenagers in their attics swapping music and movies on the other. We should not forget authors, musicians, artists and moviemakers whose financial interests must be protected. Copyright was established as a limited time monopoly, an incentive for artist, writers, musicians, and others to create and develop new expressions and new modes so that society could benefit from their ingenuity and creativity. For a long time, unfortunately, the entertainment industry has been filing suits against individuals including teenagers and their parents for illegal swapping of music. Public has little sympathy for their highhanded methods of dealing with the problem. Hollywood bullied and lobbied Congress to increase copyright time limit from 28 years to 95 years now. Ali Baba is free but Mickey Mouse is in Disney’s captivity.

The Supreme Court has to find a new balance between the need for continuous technological innovation triggered by the Internet and the legitimate financial interests of the creative community. The crucial question is: Would the legal uses of file-sharing software, if given enough time, outweigh the illegal use in the long run? If so, the Supreme Court must decide in favor of the defendants, the file-sharing companies, Grokster and StreamCast Networks Inc., and others, because such a decision would compel the entertainment industry to develop new business models, which would make illegal file-sharing less attractive.

Shakespeare borrowed freely and thrived without copyright; and Gutenberg, the printer, thrived without patent protection. Nothing must be done to slow down the growth of the digital civilization.